Monthly Archives: September 2012

Poetry Quartet

Earlier today I participated in a collaboration that spanned the globe.  It all came together spontaneously and fast.  Check it out on the main author’s site, my friend Susan L. Daniels:

http://susandanielseden.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/hate-poetry-quartet/

HATE (POETRY QUARTET)

Posted by Susan L Daniels in New Free Verse and tagged with September 30, 2012

by Boomiebol, David Trudel, Noel Ihebuzor, and Susan Daniels

if hate has a voice
it starts quiet as steam
escaping through cracks in rock
until the hissing amplifies
to volcanic roars
that no words can shout over
or stop.

If hate had a pen,
its ink would surge, overrun and melt pen and nib,
its acid sap sipping
into sweaty palms
corroding and melting sinews
and twisted tortured phalanges

if hate has eyes
they would see nothing
pale & staring
corneas scarred white
from heat

If Hate was a lighthouse
Its foghorn would be discordant
And it would get stuck like some faulty car alarm
Going off for hours
Its light would cease to work in winter storms
But the electricians won’t find the problem
Hate is always getting short

If hate had wings
It would fly

Wings spread wide
Carried swiftly by the wind
Blowing back and forth
Rapid and slow
Hovering over its ignorant victims

Slowly descending
Snatching them
Just in time
To soar high

***wow, talk about spontaneous generation!  Noel is bold, I am italicized, David isbold italics,  and Boomie is regular type.  Wow!  What power in these voices!

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Deep Passion

Deep passion runs unchecked

Across borderless fields where words gallop

Like thundering horses

Across the high sierra and

Straight up the continental divide

Deep passion taps primal forces that aren’t modulated

That can’t be dialed down

Toned down

Faded

Muted

Reduced

To something less than the full on force of a cosmic emotion

That has you on a roll

A roll a roller that’s an insane coaster

Looping loops and corkscrewing

Climbing straight up

Plunging over dropoff cliffs that rival the grand canyon

So you can’t stand up in your seat

Wave to an attendant to slow it down

If you did you’d die for sure

And though this feels like being an instant away

From being splattered on the ground

You trust that some nameless engineer

Actually knew what they were doing and

Built this ride to bring it on home

Bring it on home

Bring it on home

To where deep passion runs unchecked

David Trudel   © 2012

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Taxi Driving

Years ago, when I was in my mid twenties, I drove cab in Vancouver.  It was an interesting job and really, it was an experience that transformed me from being a naïve and innocent youth to a sometimes cynical and generally responsible adult.  You might think you know a city but until you see the nooks and crannies, the highs and lows of a big urban sprawl, well, you have just scratched the surface.  Cabbies also get to hone their communication skills, needing to judge from fare to fare whether to be talkative or not, to pay attention to body language and emotional mood and be responsive to the needs of the passengers, the traffic, and in those pre-computer days, to listen to the constant buzz of the radio dispatch system. 

 

Portland Al

 

One rainy evening I was sitting in the queue, at one of the major hotels in the downtown core, listening to the blues hour on the FM jazz radio station I preferred in those days.  The doorman raised his arm and motioned me forward for my next passenger.  He got into the car and gave me an address that was neither too close nor too far; “At least it keeps the wheels rolling,” I thought to myself as we pulled into the stream of traffic.  My fare seemed to appreciate the music at least and after a moment or two asked if I liked the blues or did I just happen to be listening to this station by chance.  “Well this is the jazz station but they play a blues set every night, and of course I love the blues.  Doesn’t everyone?” I answered.  He chuckled and replied that no, not everyone likes the blues, no, not at all.  “Have you ever been to Portland Al’s?” he then asked me. “Nope, can’t say that I have – who or what is that?” I responded.  “Well, it’s a store at 3rd and Main that’s more than just a corner store.  Portland Al runs it and he knows more about the blues than just about anybody in this town.  He also sells tape compilations of his favorites and has a few stories to tell.  Check him out, you won’t be disappointed.”  That turned out to be one of the better tips I ever received as a cabbie.

A few days later I made my way to 3rd and Main to check the place out.  As promised, it looked pretty much like one of the hundreds of corner stores found throughout the city in those days, before they were pushed aside by the all-too-common 7Elevens and Starbucks that have invaded the urban landscape faster than scotch broom on a hillside.  The sign was one of those ubiquitous Coca Cola signs that proclaimed “Portland Al’s, Gifts and Groceries” to traffic rushing into and out of the city, but unless you lived around the corner or had some pressing need there wasn’t anything from the outward appearance that might draw you in.  Indeed, upon entering it looked pretty much like all those other stores, some shelves with basic food items, a refrigerated dairy case, candy, and soda pop.  Beside the counter with the cash register however, was an alcove that led through to a whole other space.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/17328648@N00/144049730/

 

The inner sanctum included racks of new and used albums, stereo components of varying quality, framed pictures, posters and generally a potpourri of music paraphernalia. There was also a random collection of native carvings, not necessarily of the best quality.  Presiding over all was Portland Al himself.  Conjure up, if you will, a picture of a stereotypical beatnik from the 50’s with a goatee and a beret, and how he might look like after a few decades of hard living and you have an approximate vision of Portland Al.  “Can I help you, son?” he asked me.  I told him I had heard that he had some pretty good blues compilation tapes and he admitted that yes, he had a few of those.  Leading me over to a cabinet at the back he said that maybe I’d like to start with one or two of his special blues compilations, and I agreed.  He also pointed out some of the pictures on the walls, which included him with a who’s who of blues royalty such as B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, and Joe Turner.  “Got a few stories to tell about those guys!” he said chuckling to himself.

 

I bought the tapes, with no thought of all about copyright legislation or anything like that and left the store.  Well, after listening to those tapes several times I ended up a week later back at 3rd and Main to pick up some more tunes.  Over the next few months I became a regular of sorts and was given a more than cursory education in the blues.  Al would like nothing better than to pull out an album full of photos and clippings and would take great pride in reliving gigs and parties from years ago.  He wasn’t a blues musician himself, but was a huge fan and had done some promoting in the past.  He had received his moniker because in his teens he frequently travelled to Portland to catch certain acts; I’m not sure but I think he had family there.  Anyway he loved to hold forth on his favorite topics and I soon became familiar with the other Kings, Freddie and Albert, the differences between Delta and Chicago blues, along with the history of the civil rights movement on the West Coast.  I received a brief history of Chess Records, Stax, Verve, Motown, and all the rest and which labels recorded which artists.  While not exactly a busy establishment, the door at Portland Al’s opened and shut frequently enough and the clientele provided a certain amount of entertainment value themselves.  Since Vancouver didn’t have a decent R & B radio station, my previous knowledge of the blues was pretty much limited to what the rock scene had appropriated.  And while Al himself loved Clapton and the rest of the blues rockers, he opened my ears to bluesmen like Cornell Dupree, Junior Wells, Little Milton, Albert Collins, Fenton Robinson, Otis Rush, and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson.

 

Well, the years passed and I moved on and stopped dropping by to 3rd and Main.  The area changed, the city grew and finally, a few years ago I heard that Al had sold his remaining record collection and the rest of the stock and closed the store.  The years had not been kind to him – his only son was killed in a fire of a suspicious nature and Al himself had some serious health issues to grapple with.  I wish I could say that I reached out to let him know how much he had given me but I let it slide, consoling myself that I was living miles away in a different city.  Now, I will never be able to acknowledge that debt directly to him but I’ll always honour his memory and his own personal love of the blues that he so willingly shared with many others and me.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ViKxU5eOwQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MBLzTD2wTzg&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16AnGcB7MHA

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVeAir7FxVY

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Filed under Musical Vignettes

Summer in Quebec

Back in the spring of 1972 I was casting about for an interesting summer job.  After a while, a possibility presented itself that included some of the prerequisites: a steady paycheck, far from home, an exotic location.  The downside was that I would be back East in distant Quebec and my French language skills were sadly lacking. 

 

You see, my mother’s first cousin Patsy had married a French-Canadian entrepreneur who, after making a small fortune selling venetian blinds, had since acquired a hotel at Lac Beauport, not too far from Quebec City.  Apparently they had room on their staff for another pair of hands and I had a hankering for a summer away from Haney.

 

So, shortly after school ended for the year, I found my way on board a plane jetting its way across the country.  When you are 16, there is nothing like being all alone on a plane, bound for a summer job some 3,000 miles away from your parents and siblings.  It was going to be great, I thought to myself, and the miles sped by, fuelled by dreams of seductive nights on the lake.

 

The Chateau Du Lac was a ski resort in winter, although to my western eyes the supposed mountain was barely more than a bunny hill.  My cousins, however were proud of the chairlift that soared several hundred yards up the slope.  The hotel had a restaurant, a pool, a disco and several floors of guestrooms.  Up in the attic were several dozen small rooms for the staff, each holding a bed and a chest of drawers with a couple of shared washrooms at each end of the hall.

 

The lake was across the road and the Chateau had its own beach with supervised swimming and would rent out leaky canoes and paddle boats and arrange for water skiing opportunities for the guests.  There was also a tennis court and some other buildings.

 

Anyway, my cousin Bobby was fresh out of the Harvard Business School and was managing the place for his father.  Bobby had some kind of hot car, which I think was a race-tuned gold Duster, a liking for James Brown and American R & B tunes.  A few years later he was to discover his sensitive side and become a leader of the Transcendental Meditation movement but at that point he was strictly a hotelier, with aspirations of becoming the next Conrad Hilton and consequently he had little time for me, his young Anglo cousin.

 

I was put to work as a janitor and assigned a number of labour intensive tasks.  Soon enough my days settled into a routine of getting up early and grabbing breakfast in the kitchen then doing the garbage collection rounds.  The rest of the staff treated me with rather chilly politeness but were cautious because of my family connection to the Boss, not to mention the language barrier.  I quickly became aware that high school French, as taught in BC, bore little relationship to  “joual”, the slang that was the common currency of the rest of the staff.  So I remained pretty much isolated and the early dreams of romantic liaisons were fading quickly.

 

I slogged on, hauling garbage, cleaning the pool, digging ditches, and ripping up linoleum floors.  Things were looking grim.

 

One day, as I laboured stoically on, with hope for romance and gallic adventures rapidly receding, feeling melancholy and coated in grime no doubt, my duties took me past the tennis court.  On this particular day some strange looking characters, none wearing the spiffy white costumes ordinarily seen there, occupied it.  In fact, one fellow seemed to have been Robert Crumb’s model for Fat Freddie of the “Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers” of underground comics’ fame.  There was another longhaired guy flailing away with abandon and two young ladies wearing tight T-shirts and short shorts.  Needless to say, I lingered at the fence watching their antics with a certain amount of envy and a large amount of teenage lust.  After a moment, I realised that they were shouting in English, even if it was mostly the “pardon my french” variety.

 

Before long I took advantage of their poor aim to gather up half a dozen tennis balls that had flown over the fence and used the opportunity to introduce myself.  “Cool”, Freddie responded to my offering and after a few pleasantries I discovered that they were from Vancouver and living at the hotel for the summer in a rather dilapidated building known as the Annex.  “Hey”, the tall dark-haired guy with a Fu Manchu moustache said, “why don’t you come over when you get off work, we just had some dynamite Lebanese laid on us at the club last night.”

 

Things were definitely looking up.

 

An hour or so later I arrived at the seedy, ramshackle building known as the Annex.  Tucked away under some overhanging trees, and rather the worse for wear, it contained a large living room, a kitchen and a rabbit warren of bedrooms and bathrooms.  The living room was a lot like other rooms I would come to know over the next decade or so; decorated with posters and flags, furnished with old sofas leaking stuffing, ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts and roaches.  The coffee table held a forest of beer bottles and a rickety stand nearby provided space for a record player.  A couple of plastic milk crates overflowed with record albums.

 

The room was crowded, not just with the erstwhile tennis players, but with a whole tribe of longhaired, wild looking characters.  “Meet the band”, I was told, “this is Cannonball”.  “Far out”, I said and introduced myself.  Somebody passed me a hashpipe and before long the air was blue with fumes.  The stereo cranked out tunes and I soon found out that Cannonball was a rock’n’roll band who had just scored a summer-long gig at a club in Quebec City.

 

After a while, it was settled that I would come into the city with the band, check out their performance, and help out the roadie (Freddie from above) with some of his tasks.  So I rushed back to the main hotel, grabbed a bite to eat, told my cousin that I’d be going into town with the band from the Annex and then rejoined the group.

 

We piled into the caravan of rusted beaters and set off for town.  Le Cercle Electrique, as the club was called, was located just off Rue St. Jean in the centre of downtown.  It was actually a converted movie theatre, and as a result was a fabulous night-club.  The dance floor was a large wooden oval plateau in the centre of the house with tiers of tables falling around it down toward the stage.  The projectionist’s booth made for a great sound and lighting command post, including the then de rigeur swirling lightshow and miscellaneous movies playing on the billowing burlap hangings that framed the stage.  The stage was immense, and it is likely that the place had served as some kind of a burlesque house in distant years gone by.  At any rate, the band had the luxury of space, and was able to actually perform, instead of being crammed into a corner on a six-inch platform.

 

So I was introduced to the bouncers and other staff as part of the entourage and helped to set up for the night.  This involved carrying in a lot of stuff from the cars, making sure the guitars were on the right stands, that mikes were working and in position, that the band had the right clothes and that they had water or other drinks in the expected locations.

 

Well, time passed quickly and before I knew it the club began to fill up, the canned music got cranked up and the girls grabbed me and set me down at “the band’s table” down in front between the dance floor and the stage.

 

The lights dimmed and the canned music was canned.  As the lights came up, the band launched into a spirited cover of the Stones’ “Brown Sugar” and I sat enthralled as my new buddies from the Annex emerged as masters of rock’n’roll.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_rDxM6om04

 

On lead guitar was Jimmy Harmata, looking like a Sicilian pirate (he of the fu manchu) and simply wailing on his Fender Stratocaster.  A veteran of the Vancouver rock scene, Jimmy could make the guitar sing and when he caught the right groove could carry a blues riff with the same effortless joy as a downhill skier making the first run of the day through fresh powder.

 

On vocals and violin, Henry Small had an energy field about him that carried him up and into the ozone.  He would leap up to the top of the amplifiers, belt out a chorus, appear next at centre stage wielding his fiddle with a mixture of classical technique melded with the soulful truth of Papa John Creech.  Henry’s energy was formidable and simply watching him was exhausting.  Yet while he worked hard, it clearly was a lot more play than work for him and a matter of somehow connecting to a primal source of musical talent that just flowed.

 

King of the keyboards and pitching in on additional vocals was Al Foreman.  Al was a craftsman and I was to find out that he was responsible for a lot of the band’s original material, if not as a writer, well then as the yardstick that the others measured themselves by.  His ballad, “Travelling” was a great piece of writing.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LabW7JOvjuY

 

On rhythm guitar was Paul Dean, haloed in a blond Afro and adding depth to the sound that crashed out into the club.  Paul was steady as a rock, and kept the tempo where it was supposed to be, but he was also able to provide a counterpoint to Jimmy’s spirited solos.  He wasn’t averse to taking a turn in the spotlight from time to time and knew a lick or two himself.

 

Laying down the bass line was Bob Kidd.  He was as smooth as the family’s honey business.  Centre rear of the stage was the domain of Billy MacBeth on drums.  This was the era of the drum solo and any rock drummer worth his salt had to be able to hold the attention of a room full of dancers and Billy was able to conjure up the spirit of the best.  Billy sometimes had a “deer in the headlights” look, as if he had been surprised in the act, but as night followed night it was clear that his steady beat was anything but a surprise.

 

Cannonball rocked.  They favoured straight ahead rock covers, drawing on bands like the Rolling Stones, the Allman Brothers (they did an awesome version of “It’s Not My Cross To Bear”), the odd ballad or slow number and they also loaded their sets with quite a few original tunes.

 

One of the most memorable of these was “Crazy ‘Bout A Blues Guitar” featuring Jimmy wailing away on his axe, and Henry belting out the words “…and if you should happen to see BB King, tell him that I need a transfusion…”  The crowds rolled in night after night all summer long.  What a scene.

http://www.mediafire.com/?1nnnwu00y1m

 

Some nights, one of the motorcycle gangs would drop by, and in the break between sets or at the end of the night they’d head backstage to the green room and smoke everybody up, leaving behind several days supply of whatever the current product was.  For me, this was icing on the cake, not that I was totally drugged out or anything, but after all I was a child of the times!

 

Somebody taught the boys a few bars of a Quebecois rock song and they’d use that to close a set, getting an incredible reaction from the crowd.  I was happy to fetch and carry, to be a part of the inner sanctum, and to have a ringside seat at the best show in town.

 

After the last set, we’d tear down for the night and pack the cars and head back to the Chateau, often stopping at an all-night diner for a bite to eat.  I was getting by on four or five hours of sleep a night but it was all so exciting that I barely noticed.

 

The afternoons were spent in stoned-out conversation about all the topics of the day, as we listened to records like Paul Butterfield on the turntable, the Velvet Underground, or perhaps even Michael Murphy singing about Geronimo’s Cadillac.  Some of the guys had steady girlfriends, and for the rest it was a steady parade of one-night stands.  I saw more action that summer than any time before or since, some of it even involving me.

 

To be honest, the drugs were big part of it all, of course.  Now, up until then I was pretty much limited to twisting up a doobie or partaking of the odd gram of hash, stretched out over several days.  These guys of course were getting free drugs so everybody was high all the time.  Not only that, but one day somebody showed up with some mescaline and before I knew it, a technicolor viewfinder descended over my eyes, as I discovered what the psychedelic era was all about.  Of course that would be the night that Billy’s high hat broke and so just as we were peaking, the roadie and I had to take the cymbal next door to where we had seen a mechanic working.  Now, you have to remember we were completely out to lunch and not very coherent, not to mention that he was french and didn’t speak english, but by some miracle we managed to convince the mechanic to get out his welding equipment and repair the damage.  To us it seemed to take hours, but we got back before the end of the next break and Billy was able to flail away once more.

 

What a summer it was.  The band treated me like a mascot, and we joked around, talked and dreamed the days away.  One thing for sure, I didn’t feel like sixteen years old that summer.

 

The summer ended as summers do.  I went home to Vancouver, to another year at the dreaded boarding school, where the best I could look forward to was a Friday night at the Medieval Inn, where it was easy to use fake ID to get a jug of sudsy beer.

 

Cannonball added Jim Kale, formerly of the Guess Who, in place of Bob Kidd and changed their name to Scrubbaloe Caine.  About a year later they were playing at Starvin’ Marvin’s on Broadway in Vancouver and I saw them there.  I piled a carload of friends into the club, had a great time and was able to show off to the home crowd by virtue of the reflected glory.  But although I went backstage at the break, the old times were gone and the memories of that great summer in Quebec were simply memories, as faded as the pictures on a night-club wall in the bright light of day.  We had all moved on.

 

After a couple of albums, Scrubbaloe Caine broke up and the band members went their separate ways.  Paul Dean went on to great success in Streetheart and then Loverboy.  Henry Small fronted his own band for a time, then joined Prism.  Al Foreman had steady work in Vancouver for a couple of decades, sometimes solo and often as a duo with Jim Byrnes.

 

I never did hear what happened to the others, but for me it doesn’t really matter.  The memories I have will never get scratched, and every now and then an echo of one those tunes comes back to me and I remember the summer in Quebec, hanging out at the Annex with Cannonball.

 

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Filed under Musical Vignettes, Prose

Closer

If I was to follow my passion

I’d be in my car tonight

Careening down the interstate

On a highway bound for you

But I’m stalled here

Hanging time

As we wait and wait and wait

Just another hold up

Getting in between the two of us

While we wait for the world

To catch up

To where we’ll end up

Just when you think it’ll never work out

I call your name

And you wake up

 

 

David Trudel   © 2012

 

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Mashed Up

Boarding School – Mashed Up

 

My first year at boarding school had not gone well.  I struggled with subjects like Latin and German and French and as for math… well let’s just say that things weren’t adding up.  The rules were oppressive, I had been subject to some minor bullying, and basically it had been like living in a prison camp for rich kids.  So when I arrived back at “Stalag” Shawnigan for the beginning of grade ten it was with a certain amount of trepidation.

 

One thing I was looking forward to was moving into one of the smaller four person rooms instead of having to put up with the chaos of the junior dorm, which had housed something like 10 of us rather unsatisfactorily.  I was a little surprised to find myself sharing a dorm with Ross E., since we had come to blows a few times the year before.  The fat lips and black eyes had led to a grudging co-respect however, and we had closed out Grade nine in a kind of Entente Cordiale, an alliance against boys from the other houses.  And since Ross’s family had a summer cottage a few miles up the lake, there was the added advantage of having a nearby safe haven for nefarious activities.

 

So it was with more than a little interest that Ross and I made the acquaintance of our roommates.  First we were met with a new student, (all new boys were called “grommits” for some reason, and went through the usual hazing rituals) a year younger than us who had been assigned to our dorm since the junior dorm was even more crowded than usual.  Paul A. was nice enough in a quietly subdued kind of way and perhaps of most interest to Ross and I, he had a sister who was a stunningly beautiful girl, not that we’d be seeing much of her after the families had left.  Still, nothing like a little teen spirit to dream on.

 

The fourth roommate was late to arrive and before he did, the Housemaster, Mr. Grey, paid us a special visit to say a few words about him.  It turned out that “young Michael” was from California and not just that, but was a real Hollywood brat, a bona fide member of pop culture royalty, and the school’s administration wanted to ensure that things went smoothly.  I don’t remember the exact words of Mr. Grey but I’m sure the underlying message to Ross and I was something along the lines of “don’t beat the crap out of him” and of course “stay out of trouble” meaning avoiding activities that could lead to getting caned (just about anything fun).

 

At any rate, Mike eventually showed up, carrying his guitar case along with the more standard kind of luggage.  At first he seemed pretty quiet but as he unpacked we noticed that he sprinkled his conversation with all sorts of strange words and phrases, which was basically a mishmash of Southern Californian surfer lingo, mixed with what would later be known as Valleygirl slang.  And while it was true enough that he was from L.A., Mike told us that he had spent the last few months in Houston, where his dad had been filming a movie set in the Astrodome involving birds and angels and was apparently a very skewed comedy called Brewster McCloud.  But of more importance was the fact that his dad was the director of the hottest movie of the year, MASH.  Just to put it in context, MASH was irreverent and groundbreaking and used the thin cover of the Korean War to critique the ongoing and divisive Vietnamese conflict.  Not only that, but the ad-libbed nature of the dialogue, with multiple conversations taking place at the same time, swearing and on-screen pot-smoking signaled this as a counter-culture call to arms.  It also paved the way for Altman senior to develop a series of brilliant works over the next few decades, since studios like nothing better than someone who has developed a blockbuster hit.

 

For us though, Mike seemed pretty normal and he did his best to fit in and learn the ins and outs of boarding school life.  Of course, he was pretty good on the guitar and as I recall spent the first week or two learning Donovan’s “Catch the Wind”.  Finally the weekend came and we had some spare time.  Mike suggested that we should head over to Ross’s cottage, which seemed like a good idea.  Something like a few hundred yards beyond the school gates, Mike pulled us aside, and said, “Hey, do you guys smoke?”  Nervously, since even suspicion of smoking was a caning offence, I dug around and pulled out my carefully guarded pack of Number Sevens , and offered him one.  “Well that’s something”, he said, “I figured you guys were cool”.  After our smoke break, we carried on and trudged along towards Ross’s cottage.  Eventually, through the trees and long leafy lanes we came to the summer cottage.  Of course, as is the custom of the wealthy, the word cottage was quite an understatement as this was basically a very comfortable three bedroom suburban style house, plunked on the shore of the lake with extensive wraparound decks and a dock and boathouse.  Although I had been there previously, I still shook my head and sighed at the luxury of the place.  Mike wasn’t all that impressed however, but did seem anxious to get inside which I figured was due to his being tired out from carrying his guitar all this way.  Well, we made ourselves comfortable in the living room and Mike popped open the guitar case, but not to get the guitar out.  Instead he rummaged around and from a little hiding hole somewhere quickly produced a plastic baggie.  “Far out dudes”, he drawled, “wanna get high?”  Well, of course we did, since virtually every kid in those days was a wannabe hippy.  The only problem we had was to be nonchalant about it, displaying the right kind of “cool”.  Drugs were still a precious commodity in those days, extremely hard to get at our young age, but we had to act as if this was all quite normal, much like the way young men have always verbalized their sexual bravado regardless of any real experience!  Mike, on the other hand, had lived the kind of life that was documented in Life Magazine, surfing and smoking at Malibu and hanging out with rich, the famous, not to mention the notorious.

 

So Mike rolled up a joint, giving us a short clinic on separating out the stems and seeds along the way.  Now this wasn’t really the first time I’d smoked up but it was the first time I’d smoked anything decent so of course we got really stoned and ate whatever food we could find while laughing uproariously at practically everything.

 

Some weeks later, on a similar excursion, Mike got around to telling us about how he had written Suicide is Painless, the theme song for MASH.  “Really?  You wrote that?” one of us said with perhaps a note of skepticism creeping in.  “Well, the words not the music”, he allowed, “but still…”  Fumbling around in his ubiquitous guitar case, he pulled out a tattered piece of paper, with words smudged and scrawled and crossed out.  “Look at this – I was 14 when I wrote it. “  And there, as proof, was the first draft of Suicide is Painless.   He further explained that during the production his dad was looking for original music for the film and was having a difficult time matching the right kind of music to the action.  Mike had read the book of course and like many a 14 year old was not afraid of scribbling a few lines of poetry.  At any rate, he had hammered out the lyrics and then had gone to talk to Johnny Mandel to see if he’d be interested in putting it to music.  Johnny came up with the melody and made a rough arrangement, which he’d played for Bob, to an enthusiastic reception.  Only after the director agreed to include the song in the movie did Johnny disclose his own son had written it!

 

Now, during this period, it was customary for parents and family to come and visit on the weekends, either to attend a rowing regatta or to watch a rugby match or to take us out for a meal somewhere.  For Ross and his brother Paul, this often amounted to his grandparents arriving in their chauffeur driven Cadillac limo, and going somewhere for lunch, which Ross rather perversely didn’t seem to enjoy all that much.  For me, it might be a family visit to the Glass Castle, and a meal at the Village Green in the town of Duncan, something less than the height of sophistication, but appreciated nonetheless.

 

One weekend, Mike got permission to leave for the weekend and off he went on a fishing trip.  When he returned on Sunday evening, we asked him how it had gone and if he’d caught any fish.  “It was okay”, he allowed, “but I didn’t catch any fish”.  Slowly, and with a lot of prodding we discovered that it really wasn’t a fishing trip at all. Instead he’d been out partying on a massive yacht, not just with his dad, but also with Julie Christie and Warren Beatty who were shooting McCabe and Mrs. Miller in Vancouver with Bob at the time.  Not only that, but Art Garfunkel and Jack Nicholson were also aboard to get some relief from filming Carnal Knowledge over at the Taylor’s old place in Vancouver, Shannon Estate.  Well, according to Mike it was a memorable trip, even without any fishing.  We thought so, too.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/58823320@N05/5395048334/

 

Christmas came and went and in the New Year Mike sought out the Housemaster with a request to be absent for a few days in February.  “What’s the purpose of the trip?” asked Mr. Grey.  “Well sir,” said Mike, “I need to go to the Academy Awards, my song’s been nominated.”  Mr. Grey looked a little startled and then said, “hmm.  I suppose that’s sufficient grounds, but be sure you keep up with any homework assignments, won’t you!”

 

The song didn’t win but the movie managed a statue or two.  Dozens of boys had crowded into Mr. Grey’s study to watch the telecast, hoping for a glimpse of Mike.  The camera did pause briefly on the Altman clan so we were able to verify his presence at any rate.

 

By Easter, the checks started rolling in.  The song didn’t get much airplay in North America but Europe was another story entirely.  Over there it was climbing the charts and over the course of just a couple of months Mike was raking in more dough than most of our parents would make in a year.  Finally the temptation grew to be too much for Mike and he decided to drop out.  He came back to visit us just before the end of the school year, driving some big old commercial truck that had been converted into a hippy version of a motor home.  In addition, his co-pilot was a dreamy looking beauty, which made us all turn an even darker shade of green.  After a brief visit, off he went, painlessly to be sure, into the proverbial sunset.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gO7uemm6Yo

 

 

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